1999: A Movie Year In Review (Part One)


Many films come out every year with critics and fans alike, compiling lists of their bests and worsts. There are also many films that fall between the cracks, only to be discovered years later. Many critics believe that one of the best years in cinema was 1939, when Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz were released alongside many other classic gems.

Personally, I’ve always felt that 1999 was an epic year for movies, providing us with so many interesting films. In fact, 1999 was such a good year for movies that even some of the bad ones are still worth watching!

In 1999, the world was a very different place. We were on the cusp of a new millennium and 9/11 was something that nobody – not even Hollywood could have imagined at the time. Fear of the millennium bug and crazy beliefs about the end of the world gave a lot of films released that year a nihilistic quality that we hadn’t seen since the 1970s.

I remember an excitement about the films that came out in ’99, and as a young man about to head to university, it was an exciting time – A time where I was heading out on my own, in anticipation of a new century, a new millennium and of course, a thrilling combination of films to guide the way. 1999 delivered a cinematic year like no other, and it brought forward films that will not only be remembered, but that also have set the benchmark for Hollywood output this decade. And, some ten years later, some of these films are still being used as creative templates.

[NOTE: the films that I am about to discuss are not a definitive list of the films released in 1999, nor are they a list of the best – what will follow is a collection of films which I believe are worth watching for entertainment value, or films which I believe are worth watching because how they have impacted cinema over the last decade.]

8mm was Joel Schumacher making amends for Batman and Robin. An Andrew Kevin Walker script with Nicolas Cage delivering one of his best performances, gave this gritty film an edge that most Hollywood studio productions don’t have. It also featured a strong supporting role from Joaquin Phoenix. While it might not be for everyone, it is a strong film, IMHO.

The 13th Warrior
This John McTiernan film preceded the glut of medieval epics that followed in the wake of The Lord of The Rings trilogy. While The 13th Warrior is an incredibly flawed film, it is still worth watching on a rainy Sunday afternoon. The film was plagued by production problems and fights between McTiernan and producer and novelist Michael Crichton (it’s based on his book); the budget of the film finally came in at a reported $200 million – though it sure doesn’t look that way onscreen. The film’s plot is based on the “Beowulf” poem and it’s a curiosity film rather than a must-see.

American Beauty
American Beauty was Sam Mendes’ directorial debut. The multi-Oscar-winning family drama showed that thoughtful films for adults still made a killing at the box office ($130 million) and it highlighted the fact that adults are only teenagers with mortgages. It also solidified Kevin Spacey’s star status and made plastic bags cool – for about a minute.

American Pie
The film that started the current trend of R-rated sex comedies. American Pie was something of a cultural phenomenon when it was released way back in the summer of 1999 – it introduced the world to a raft of new sex-related phrases (MILF being the most commonly used) and it made an icon out of Seann William Scott. Two lesser sequels and a few straight-to-DVD installments followed, but none could match the originality of this original slice of Pie. We wouldn’t have had Superbad or The Hangover without it.

Arlington Road
Arlington Road was something of a sleeper hit in the summer of 1999. This Mark Pellington film is a 70′s style paranoia thriller clearly modeled on the work of Alan Pakula. Jeff Bridges stars as a college professor who suspects his friendly neighbor, Tim Robbins, might be a terrorist. A chilling and prophetic vision of post-911 paranoia. Highly Recommended viewing.

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
This Austin Powers sequel was another phenomenon in the summer of 1999. While the first film was a modest hit, grossing $50 million, this sequel upped the ante and brought in a huge $200 million. It’s the reason that The Love Guru exists – but don’t hold that against it. The Spy Who Shagged Me is actually funny.

Being John Malkovich
This Spike Jones/ Charlie Kaufman comedy was an art house hit featuring John Cusack and Cameron Diaz. It’s odd and off the wall, but there’s so much originality in the film that one can’t help but enjoy it. Having said that – it’s not for everyone.

The Blair Witch Project
The film that changed film marketing forever. Blair Witch came from nowhere and showed Hollywood that the internet was a way to hype films without having to spend $100 million dollars. Many were lead to believe that the film was true and the documentary style (later re-dubbed “shaky cam style” and now ‘found foogtage’) was copied for years to come (see: Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity).

The last great Eddie Murphy film. Written by and co-starring Steve Martin, Bowfinger is a Hollywood satire directed by Yoda himself – Frank Oz.

Breakfast of Champions
Chances are you’ve never heard of this Bruce Willis, Nick Nolte and Albert Finney-starring comedy. Based on the Kurt Vonnegut novel, Breakfast of Champions was barely given a release a decade ago, but if you can find it and get past the tough first 20 minutes, it’s worth seeing.

Bringing Out the Dead
Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader re-team for what some called “Ambulance Driver.” It’s bleak and depressing, but again it offers another good performance by Nicolas Cage as a burnt-out, drug-fueled paramedic.

Deep Blue Sea
Something of a guilty pleasure for me (and I know I’m not alone). Deep Blue Sea is a hell of an action ride. Sharks, Samuel L. Jackson and Thomas Jane in a Renny Harlin-directed film. It grossed an impressive $70 million back in the day and it’s still fun now!

One of Kevin Smith’s worst films, IMHO; I almost walked out of the cinema when I first saw it. It was a re-teaming of Good Will Hunting boys Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, and it also featured Alan Rickman and Alanis Morrisette. I haven’t seen it in years and I’ll probably give it a revisit. Maybe you should too.

Ron Howard’s EDtv was beaten to the punch by The Truman Show the previous year as a pastiche of reality television. Matthew McConaughey stars as the titular Ed, a normal guy who becomes a celebrity when he stars in a reality television show. Like that would ever happen!

End of Days
End of Days was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s comeback film after Batman and Robin and heart surgery (the two weren’t related). It’s not Schwarzenegger at his best, but Peter Hyams’ dark visuals, John Denby’s score and an interesting supporting role of Gabriel Byrne as Satan makes this an interesting curiosity. The film relied heavily of millennium fear and pretty much reflects what the world was like at that point in time
A slick heist/thriller starring Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta Jones. It’s not a bad film, and it’s good to see Connery in any sort of toupee’d action. Only problem is – I can’t see Zeta Jones falling for a much older man. Oh…wait….

Eyes Wide Shut
Stanley Kubrick’s final film was two years in production and caused much controversy due to the sexually explicit scenes contained in the film. The film stars the then-married Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman as a doctor and his wife who turn a bizarre corner in their marriage. It was a strange film to be released in the summer months, with dream-like visuals and a slow and meandering pace. It’s kind of like a good novel really – takes you a long time to experience, but you end up thinking about it for ages afterwards.

Continue to Part 2